Research projects

Place, voice and gendered orders in everyday life at school

Tarja Tolonen

Phd. Research project

My doctoral work focuses on gender, youth and school. I have conducted a research on the dynamics of school communities. The focus of  the research is gendered everyday practises, and their differencies in local school communities. I also study ideals and representations of gender, youth and school. Through my reseach it is possible to build understanding of the social processes such as marginalizations, friendships, enjoyment and bullying at school, as well as the relationships between the teachers and the students. This research will be useful for other researchers as well as for the professionals working with young people. This research can be located in the areas of sociology, cultural and womens’ studies, educational and youth research. 

I have participated in an ethnographic research during the semester 1994-95 in two secondary schools in Helsinki area in the research project ”Citizenship, Marginality and Difference at School - with Special Reference to Gender” directed by Professor Tuula Gordon (see below). The primary data of my dissertation work includes intensive participant observation in the classrooms (n=200) and in the informal student cultures, as well as the interviews of the students (n=50) and other material. We have gathered a great amount of  data jointly with six researchers of the project.

In the research project we have focussed on the layers of official, informal and physical school. I analyse the social dynamics of a school communities and students’ conceptions of social order and the processes of producing cultural continuities and differencies at school. I analyse my materials as gendered narratives of the school community and I  pay attention to various themes in gendered narratives. What kind of narratives of self do boys and girls represent in the interwievs? What kind of femininities and masculinities are desirable and rejected, or impossible or possible to perform in  two schools in Helsinki area with different localities?

Citizenship, Difference and Marginality in Schools – With special reference to gender

(Academy of Finland, 1994-1998, Tuula Gordon) 

In this comparative, cross-cultural, collective, ethnographic project we explored how citizenship and difference are constructed in school (in Helsinki and London) and broadened the theory of political, legal and social citizenship to include culture, embodiment and sexuality. The collective consists of Elina Lahelma, Pirkko Hynninen, Tuija Metso, Tarja Palmu (all in the Department of Education, University of Helsinki, and Tarja Tolonen, Sinikka Aapola and Jukka Lehtonen (all in the Deparment of Sociology, University of Helsinki) and with Janet Holland and her research assistants (Southbank University, London) 

We explored the process of educating citizens in schools, practices of differentiation and ways in which differences were represented. Everyday life in the school was explored by analytically differentiating between the official, the informal and the physical (spatiality and embodiment) school. We also explored meanings attached to processes and practices of differentiation by school students and teachers. The ethnographic approach enabled us to develop a multi-layered analysis, where complexities of social, cultural and spatial processes were included. This has enabled to explore complex ways in which difference is constructed in schools, how gender is intertwined with other dimensions of difference, and what (rather then who) is marginalised in this process. Our research adopts a critical approach to restructuring of education (in Britain and Finland). In the context of educational politics it has become more difficult to raise questions of social justice. 

Social and spatial transitions in young people's life course

Tarja Tolonen 

Research project 2001-2005   

In this reseach I will focus on how young people situate themselves into locality, nationality and globality as well as social differences while talking about “self evident” and “normal” things in their ordinary lives. In my previous reseach 15 year old Finns described themselves as normal and ordinary, this was a highly valued way of life. In Finnish culture, quite often references to ordinarity and normality are made as commonly shared and highly valued. However, matters that occure as self evident and normal are highly complex and intertwine with social differences (such as class, race, gender, ethnicity and locality).

The data used in this research is based on 60 interviews. I had make life course interviews on young people of age 18-20 with different social backrounds and lifesituations in different locations in Finland: in Kajaani, Kymenlaakso area, Salo and Helsinki. We discussed on their past, how they have made situations concerning their transitions (to school, work, family) so far,  as well as their future plans.

In the analysis I use metaphors of space as a device:  Social relations are often described through spatial metaphors. In my analysis I seek what kind of local, national and global spaces young people create while narrating their future plans. I analyse for instance what kind of “dreamlands” of “in between lands” they describe, and where they situate their different plans, stories of success or stories of failures, and how these stories relate to their material contexts.

This research project has several connections. It is funded by:

My research projects are closely connected to several research projects by doc. Tuula Gordon  and doc. Elina Lahelma.The joint research themes are such as transitions, adulthood, nationality, citizenship and gender at school. The cooperation is made with professor Janet Holland and Rachel Thomson in Southbank University, London, UK, their project  Inventing Adulthoods: Young People's Strategies for Transition and with the project Families and social capital by Janet Holland and Rosalind Edwards.

Agency and Power in Young People’s Lives: Boundaries and Limitations

Tuula Gordon, 2003-2005, University of Helsinki
Researchers: Tarja Tolonen and Sanna Aaltonen 

 Agency and Power in Young People’s Lives combines theoretical analysis of exercise of agency and of power relations encountered by young women and men. The project draws from the fields of sociology, education, cultural studies, feminist research and youth research. We explore what possibilities and limitations are involved in young people’s lives as they construct their lives in the context of social, cultural and material frames. We ask how they construct and utilise personal resources in order to negotiate the course of their current everyday life, the extent to which they construct future life trajectories and to what extent and in what ways they plan their futures as well as negotiate their current everyday lives.

Neo-liberal politics emphasize the responsibilities and opportunities of the ‘individual’. Cultural constructions emphasize the importance of ‘individualism’. At the same time economic and social resources are increasingly differentially distributed. Such developments offer young people both opportunities, as well as place boundaries on their possible uses of resources. In young people’s lives there are many social structures and practises, such as social class, ethnicity and gender, that construct their boundaries and possibilities. We explore how young people are materially and spatially located, how they define their own situations, how and to what extent they are able to be agentic, and how they account for their actions. Significant resources and networks enhancing and/or restricting agency are considered (such as family, peer cultures, local educational and economic opportunities).

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Päivitetty 10.10.2003